August 2nd 2023 3-minute read
Within the cosmetic industry alone, a stunning 120 billion units of packaging (figure from 2017 and mostly plastic!) are produced yearly. In efforts to make plastic production more earth-friendly, some companies have turned to a material called “bioplastics.” While traditional plastics utilize fossil fuels (specifically petroleum from the oil industry), new-age bioplastics are formed partially or wholly from natural resources, such as wood chips, vegetable oil, sugar cane, and starches. Bioplastics claim to be biodegradable or renewable, leaving a lower carbon footprint than non-decomposable plastics. At first glance, this alternative sounds enticing. However, when broken down into our soil, do bioplastics truly enrich the earth or replicate the microplastic pollution of its petrol cousin?
Though forged from renewable feedstock, bioplastics undergo similar chemical processing as conventional plastics. A 2020 study from leading ecotoxicologist Lisa Zimmermann found that bioplastics include a host of toxic chemicals, harmful to both human health and the environment. Up to 80% of the 43 bioplastics Zimmermann and her colleagues tested contained between 1,000 and 20,000 chemicals.
Another downfall? Plastics categorized as bioplastics are not required to be made fully of biodegradable materials. This gives companies plenty of wiggle room to mix conventional plastics into their bioplastic-advertised products. As of 2023, the required ratio of bioplastic to petroleum plastic is only 68% bio to 32% petro. The result? Big-name companies can market their packaging as eco-friendly without due diligence, unwittingly (or uncaringly) adding to the build-up of toxic pollution in our waterways, oceans, land, and air. Unless bioplastics are fully degradable and formulated solely from natural resources, they are as culpable as conventional plastics in pollution.
But don’t bioplastics decompose more easily than conventional plastics? Not necessarily. Bioplastics must often pass through a separate, specialized composting facility to break down. Even then, they only degrade to a smaller size, so they still become microplastics. If they end up in a regular recycling plant, bioplastic contaminants could prevent a whole batch of conventional plastics from getting properly recycled. And for the unlucky batches of bioplastics that get funneled into landfills, gases released during their decomposition, including ultra-harmful methane, create a perfect storm for increased global warming.
With limited accountability, companies that use bioplastic packaging can identify as eco-friendly without any follow-through. Meanwhile, poor-quality bioplastics that don’t reach the proper recycling facility can wreak even more havoc than conventional plastics. The difficulty, cost, and consistency required to recycle bioplastics mean that many businesses will fail to commit to meaningful change, contributing to the environmental toxicity that bioplastics claim to combat.
Those of us at DEW MIGHTY don’t think you should have to choose between quality skin care and an eco-friendly lifestyle. We are committed to not contributing to plastic waste, so all our products are contained in truly compostable and recyclable packaging, down to the ink and tape. We commit to the circularity of use with buy-once reusable metal containers that are refillable with new DEW products. Our cosmetics are shipped in lightweight veggie-coated paper packaging that can later be recycled or composted. Metal and paper are the two most successfully recycled materials in the U.S., which is why we put them on the front line of our packaging.
When we consider solutions to pollution beyond the bare minimum of modifying plastic technology feedstock, we can help turn off the tap of plastic production, which will be the greatest impact on reducing landfill waste. We say no to all plastics petro or bio here at DEW MIGHTY.
Great additional reads
“Bioplastics: The Best of the Bad” via Energy Industry Review
“Are bioplastics and plant-based materials safer than conventional plastics? In vitro toxicity and chemical composition” via ScienceDirect
“Bioplastics are just as toxic as other plastics” via News Medical
“Are bioplastics the solution to the plastic pollution problem?” via PLOS Biology
“Biodegradable Plastics May End Up Doing More Harm Than Good” via Bloomberg
Collab with Piper Gourley